Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Midlife problems: Too Much Stuff

When we were younger, we could legitimately say there were things we "needed." When I got my first real job, I needed professional clothing. When we moved to a bigger house, we needed everything from wastebaskets to furniture.

I'm not an obsessive shopper, but when I had the time and the inclination, I enjoyed shopping. Dean and I were never ones to need everything perfectly decorated right off the bat, so we gradually collected stuff over the years as we found things we liked and as our budget would allow. We've also inherited stuff from our parents, grandparents, great aunts, and the previous owners of the houses we've lived in. We've brought interesting things home from trips and received gifts from dear friends.

But now we've been accumulating things for 31 years, and we've got too much stuff. Every time I buy another pair of shoes or a new pair of jeans, I think with despair of my bulging closet. I can no longer enjoy shopping because we cannot stuff one more dang thing into this house. Especially after we downsized to a smaller house three years ago.

We're not hoarders, at least not in any extreme sense of the word. I would never let so much stuff stack up that you had to make a path through the dining room to get to the kitchen. But on the other hand, neither of us is good at getting rid of things, either. We each have clothing in our side of the closet that we haven't worn in years, but what if we need it next month?

Or maybe it has some special memory associated with it, like the T-shirt MadMax designed in grade school that was a picture of three striped columns. I couldn't tell what it was until I saw the similar t-shirt one of his classmates had drawn: OH! beech trees! (Sadly MadMax has inherited his parents utter lack of artistic skill.) Obviously we can't get rid of that. 

The central areas of our home are clear and relatively uncluttered. But around the edges? We've got a mess. Closets, the back counter of our kitchen where mail piles up, the storeroom where we keep moving things around so we can shove one more item on the shelf, the corners where I stack extra books, the bottom shelf of the sofa table where who-knows-what has accumulated: just thinking about it makes me feel buried under a mountain of stuff.

It's not so bad when you can feel good about donating things to a good cause, but a few years ago I made the mistake of looking around the back of one of our local charitable second hand stores, and was astonished to find vast mountains of clothes, piles of stuff, mounds of crap. My smug delusions that at least my excess stuff was going to someone who needed it dissolved in the face of the reality of how much stuff Americans are shifting from one location to another. The logistics of relocating our junk are far more complex than I wanted to know.

So what in the world are we going to do with it? Stay tuned. This post turned into two, the second half, about figuring out what to do with all the stuff, is in progress. (Fair warning: I have no magic solutions, just more thoughts.)(so what else is new.)

(last minute note: sorry this went up late. I had it written last night but I must have screwed up the "scheduled publish" thing. Oops.)


Muriel K. Jackson said...

Look forward to finding out how and where to get rid of stuff. Just holding my breath...

BarbN said...

No, no, no, Muriel, you're supposed to tell me how to get rid of stuff! Surely you have wisdom to impart!

London Mabel said...


That's exactly the theme of this week's Between Friends series of comics. Not a crazy coincidence since it's that time of year. My job SUCKS right now. Worse than it usually does.

Oh my days the mountains and mountains of things that people accumulate and donate. (Myself included.) Working at this job certainly brings you face to face with CONSUMERISM.

IN re the thrift shops, I will say this. I don't know what kind you have where you live, but for the two I've worked at:

* Both recycled as much as possible. They get money from scrap metal. And can usually sell scrap clothes (clothes you can't sell) to buyers who buy in bulk and create rags or whatever.

* Even though at this time of year thrift shops receive overwhelming amounts of stuff (why does no one spring clean in January??) they still appreciate the donations. Even if they just have to pick the best, and recycle/toss the rest. It's how they survive. And if it's a charity shop, then it's benefiting someone.

* Don't be afraid to recycle books! People treat books like these magical beings they can't possibly toss. Makes me mental. If it's really damaged, so you can't imagine it selling; or it's outdated information (encyclopedias, atlases, school books), then recycle them yourself. You will save that charity the trouble of having to do it.

(I've actually had conversations with people who think their 1970s encyclopedias will benefit someone. "What if they don't have the internet." "Well... a kid still can't do a school report about South Africa in 1978." "What about sending them overseas?" "Well... an African kid still can't do a report about South Africa in 1978. Plus it would cost A TON." )

Also, people don't buy hard cover novels very often. So if it's not in good condition/recent/desirable/collectible/special in some way, you might want to recycle. The second hand bookstore where I volunteered only kept one small section of them, for $3 each. At the Sally Anne we couldn't move the darn things til we dropped them down to $1 each.

* Toss anything that's not recyclable, and not legal to sell, like cassette tapes taped off TV. CDs too, unless they can recycle those in your town. Even jewel cases are often not recyclable. Cause if you don't toss it, someone else will have to.

* Recycle things like puzzles that are missing pieces or aren't in the original box, lol.

There are my off-the-cuff tips. Le Assvice.

Buried Under Other People's Things. ;-)

BarbN said...

Mabel! I can't believe I forgot you work at a secondhand shop! I should have had you write part 2. Thanks for your expert perspective, especially the bit about recycling books, I didn't know you could do that. if you don't mind I will link to this in the next post.

Debbie said...

What Mabel said!